DETROIT -- The tone of wording hinted frustration from Al Avila as the Tigers' general manager summed up his club's situation with top slugger Nicholas Castellanos during last month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas."You would think that a team that would want him would have a bigger benefit for a
DETROIT -- The tone of wording hinted frustration from Al Avila as the Tigers' general manager summed up his club's situation with top slugger Nicholas Castellanos during last month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
"You would think that a team that would want him would have a bigger benefit for a full season than at the [Trade Deadline], when it's just for the last couple months," Avila said at the time. "You would think there would be a bigger benefit now. But again, there has to be that market, that desire. I can't create it. I have a player, but you know how many players are out there? You know how many players are available via trade? Not to mention free agents? It's not that clear-cut easy [to say] that [the Tigers] should trade him and this is what they should get."
What happens in Vegas supposedly stays in Vegas, but what didn't happen in Vegas has lingered for the Tigers. Nearly a month since the Winter Meetings, the market for Castellanos still hasn't moved much aside from inquiries. Part of that reflects a slow market across baseball that has Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, A.J. Pollock and Adam Jones still wading in the free-agent waters.
"There's been interest in Castellanos," Avila said last month. "But it seems like there still needs a lot to happen, whether it be free agents out there that people are looking at, whether it be other bigger deals out there that people are looking at, that kind of have to fall in. And then at that point, we'll see where we fit into the big picture of the other 29 clubs."
Among the clubs who have checked in on Castellanos at different points this offseason are the Braves and Dodgers, according to MLB Network's Jon Morosi.
None of the top free agents are likely to settle for one-year contracts. But if the market continues to stagnate, and second-tier free agents begin feeling pressure to move, it could create a choice for teams whether to trade for one season of control on Castellanos -- who is eligible for free agency next winter -- or sign a second-tier free agent to a one-year deal without having to give up prospects.
The Tigers have set a high asking price for Castellanos, according to an evaluator. However, Avila has some justification for doing so. Though the Tigers have received some trade interest on other players, Castellanos is realistically Detroit's best chance -- and potentially last chance for the near future -- at the type of major trade that can further stock the farm system with quality prospects, including an impact hitter.
Add in the potential to hold Castellanos until the summer, and the Tigers are downplaying any sense of urgency to move their offensive catalyst.
"You do the best that you can get. That's all you can do," Avila said. "And if you can't get that deal, you move on."
The Tigers, meanwhile, are nearing a point where they'll have to plan for Castellanos to at least open Spring Training as a Tiger. Next Friday is the deadline for teams to exchange figures with arbitration-eligible players, of which Castellanos is one.
The Tigers have handled arbitration negotiations differently than many clubs in recent years. Detroit hasn't gone to an arbitration hearing since 2001, and has gone to lengthy negotiations to avoid them. While many clubs have cut off negotiations once figures are exchanged, an approach known as "file-and-trial," the Tigers have negotiated several contracts past that point. That approach could change this offseason with John Westhoff stepping back from chief negotiator to a senior advisor, though Avila recently downplayed their history of avoiding hearings.
Castellanos is in his third year of arbitration eligibility, having reached an agreement on a one-year, $6.05 million deal last winter to avoid a hearing. If the two sides can avoid a hearing again this time around, it would provide some cost certainty to clubs weighing the possibility of a late-offseason trade. The counterargument is that some teams and their analytics staffs might value Castellanos for arbitration dealings in general differently than the Tigers.
Put it all together, and the Tigers are coasting towards an intersection of a slow player market and a rapidly dwindling offseason.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.